Pentecost is a funny day. It’s full of things we don’t know what to make of – fire, wind, other languages, friends, strangers.
It’s also the birthday of the church, and if I’m honest, that’s something I often feel pretty ambivalent about celebrating. I love her, but she makes me cringe a lot, too.
But Pentecost Sunday is her birthday, and as much as she still needs to grow, a birthday is a good time to look at baby pictures, to celebrate the DNA that’s baked in.
And the DNA of the church is diversity.
Pentecost is often seen in contrast to the story of the city of Babel, but I see it as more of a parallel story.
Babel is part of the origin story of humanity. After only one family was saved from the great flood to reboot the human race, they stuck together. The story begins by telling us they built a great city with a tall skyscraper where they could all stay in one place and speak one language.
And God looked down and saw all the effort they were going to in order to maintain a single identity – a singular “name” for themselves – and wondered just how far they’d go with it. And so he mixed their languages and scattered them across the earth.
It’s the beginning of different languages and cultures, and that was God’s idea. It shouldn’t surprise us that the same God that made creation to increase in diversity also likes diversity in people.
He likes diversity a lot more than we do. We’re a lot like those first Babylonians that way – we’ll go to a lot of trouble to stay together with those like us, with those who share our “name,” our identity, our truth, the way we see things.
And while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying being with those who are like us and celebrating our culture together (after all, that’s what God made at Babel!), we tend to go farther. We judge our ways and our culture as inherently better than others, and we find reasons to push others away or insist they assimilate.
But then there’s Pentecost, and in the birth of the church, God reasserts his preference for diversity. Mixing Galilean fishermen and tax collectors and radical zealots wasn’t enough for him. They were gathered together in one place speaking one language, and as the church is born, they begin to speak many different languages. The immigrants and visitors who were in Jerusalem from all over didn’t hear the good news of God’s kingdom in one language; they each heard it in their own language.
God birthed the church in a glorious mix of languages and cultures that only expanded from there. It’s the opposite of assimilation. God’s good news is endlessly translatable, and when we walk together with those who are different from us, we can see things we never would’ve seen on our own – hear things beyond what our own language can tell us.
While God calls us to unity in him, that unity never comes at the expense of the diversity God glories in. May we learn to glory in it the way God does!
So church, happy birthday! عيد ميلاد سعيد! Hyvää syntymäpäivää! Joyeux anniversaire! Hau’oli la hanau! 생일 축하합니다 Feliz cumpleaños! Penblwydd hapus! С днём рождения!